Working our way up the list of the best young talents on the Buffalo Bills, we’re now nearing “starter” territory. Some of these players can start games for the Bills, or at least have shown the potential that they could do it someday soon. The thing separating this tier of players from the top of the list? It’s consistency. No better example of this than today’s player. This running back is capable of some remarkable plays, but hasn’t been reliable enough from down-to-down to become the team’s lead back.
The list so far
Number 6: RB Devin Singletary (turns 24 on September 3rd)
The small but mighty Singletary looked like a steal as a rookie, when he led the Bills in rushing and ran for 5.1 yards per carry. In 2020, he was still the team’s leading rusher, but he regressed in almost every measure. Which one will the Bills have in 2021?
Standing only 5’7” and 200 pounds, Singletary doesn’t have punishing size as his calling card. Neither is his athletic ability a standout trait; a 4.66 forty-yard dash, 9’9” broad jump, and 7.32 three-cone drill were all subpar results at the NFL Combine. Instead, his calling card was his footwork and intuition for blocking angles. Those natural traits led to unbelievable production at Florida Atlantic: 4,287 rushing yards and 66 touchdowns in three years.
At his best, Singletary is one of the team’s dynamic playmakers. He can turn a negative play into a positive gain with his shimmy and shake, and has enough juice to stretch small gains into twenty-yard scampers. As a rookie, he was a killer on pin-and-pull runs to the sideline. He’s also improved as a pass protector, to the point where he’s not a liability on passing downs.
However, there were times in 2020 where Singletary just struggled to make magic happen. When the run blocking wasn’t effective in front of him, he was caught in the backfield, too slow to outrun chasing defenders. He improved his fumble tendencies, but also dropped some easy catches. When it came down to it, he wasn’t able to separate himself from rookie Zack Moss, who wasn’t especially distinguished last season himself.
The Bills seem to lack confidence in Singletary as an every-down runner, despite that being his calling card in college. After averaging 19 carries (and 1.7 touchdowns) per game at Florida Atlantic, the Bills are only giving him 11 carries per game. They don’t even try using him in short yardage. With 307 career carries, he’s taken 11 carries in goal-to-go situations and 16 carries on 3rd/4th and short. Yes, Josh Allen swipes many of those opportunities, but 36-year-old Frank Gore and Moss claimed 33 goal-line carries and 28 short-yardage carries on only 278 combined rushing attempts, too.
So with Singletary, the Bills have a starting-quality player, but perhaps with limited versatility. He doesn’t have the upside of a lead running back, so he might max out as a Tevin Coleman down the stretch. Running backs aren’t critical in the NFL anymore, and they don’t seem to be critical for the Bills, but at least Singletary gives them a solid performer who is just entering the prime of his career this season.